Just when I was gaining some ground by focusing the scope of “Palmer’s Picks,” I took a little step backwards with another one of those damn “catch-all” columns. I’m not exactly sure if this “Picks” was really thrown together because of a larger-than-expected workload at college—as I mention in the opening of the original column—or if I just made that up for a snappy opening paragraph. Whatever the reason, I decided it would be a good idea to put together a Christmas list for Wizard #17.
This column might not measure up to some of the others I wrote, but it’s interesting how I was able to pick out some comics I enjoyed at the time that might not fit into the “Palmer’s Picks” format or mission statement. I was really into Frank Miller‘s Sin City when it started, but there was really no reason to give Miller the spotlight because he was (and still is) the furthest thing from an unknown creator. Instead, I gave a quick plug for the collected edition of Miller’s first Sin City tale, which Dark Horse had just published. I got to recommend Bone once again, even though it would be ten more issues before I did a full-length focus on Jeff Smith and his self-publishing phenomenon. Art Spiegelman‘s Maus also got a mention on this Christmas list. I really don’t know why I never devoted a full “Palmer’s Picks” to Spiegelman. Maybe I thought I had covered him sufficiently in the overview of anthologies in issue 10? Or maybe I wasn’t familiar with enough of his older work to feel comfortable writing more than a few paragraphs about him? It doesn’t really matter why, it was a big omission. And yes, if you take a look at the original column, I did actually segue from the all-ages Bone to the Holocaust survival story Maus!
Going over the rest of the list, it looks like I put together a really weird bunch of books. And maybe that’s why I don’t think this column measures up. Using the holiday season as the theme was an okay idea, but I should have focused it a bit more. Maybe just pick some good trade paperbacks. Or how about just sticking with books that would be a good fit for someone who’s not into comics? Instead I just picked out some things and threw them in a blender. I mean, going from Bone to Maus is one thing, but recommending Skin, the story of a skinhead born deformed by the drug Thalidomide, alongside The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus really makes this list inconsistent.
The art choices this time around are also lacking, but that’s probably because I was away from home at college and separated from my comic book collection by about three hundred miles. I couldn’t include some comics when I sent in my manuscript so I had to rely on the art department at Wizard. They probably still had some artwork leftover from the Tundra feature in issue 12, so they grabbed some art for Madman Adventures, Skin, and The Maximortal and dropped in a cover of an old issue of Cerebus for good measure. The big lesson I learned this time was that I needed to plan my columns before I left for school. The next time I was home on break, I made sure to grab enough comics to bring back to college so that I wouldn’t be caught short again.
By Tom Palmer Jr.
As I write this article, I am up to my neck in tests and papers in college, not to mention the dreaded deadline for this column. To make up for lost time, I have decided to take a break from my usual spotlighting of one particular creator and give everybody some suggestions for Christmas. You can use this as a guide to spend all of your money on someone you hold dear to your heart, or you can be a greedy Scrooge and buy everything for yourself. Let me remind you that these are only suggestions. I do not expect everyone to go out and spend ridiculous amounts of money to buy everything I mention. So when I get letters from angry parents telling me that they are now broke from buying their son (or daughter) truckloads of comics, I’ll just ignore them. Just think of this as a recap and expansion of what I’ve mentioned in previous columns, or as an extended version of the Recommended Reading section. But, I beg you to please try at least one of the comics I mention.
All six of the Cerebus reprint volumes should be out in the direct market for the Christmas season, or shortly thereafter. To buy all of them combined will set you back about $150, so I suggest starting off with one to see if you like them. A good starting point for new readers is Jaka’s Story or Melmoth, the fifth and sixth volumes, respectively. These two books can stand apart from the others and are not as deeply tied to the Cerebus storyline as the rest. If you like what you see, you can pick up the regular series, or try another reprint volume.
Jeff Smith’s Bone, like Cerebus, is entirely self-published. The series has only recently begun, yet it has been met with enormous amounts of critical praise from people ranging from Will Eisner to Peter David. The current story deals with the exodus of the three Bone cousins (Fone, Phoney, and Smiley) from their homeland, Boneville. Smith’s artwork is deceptively simple. He doesn’t use much flash, yet he is a master of conveying gesture and body language for both humorous and dramatic effect. Since it is relatively new, Bone may be a hard to find, but it is worth the effort to track it down. Six issues have appeared so far, and more are scheduled to appear on a bi-monthly basis.
In contrast to the lighthearted mood of Bone is the serious biography of Maus. Originally serialized in Raw, Art Spiegelman’s story of his father’s imprisonment in a concentration camp during World War II has been hailed both in and out of the comic field as a masterpiece. Spiegelman has been the recipient of many awards for his work on Maus, including a special Pulitzer Prize.
For those of you not familiar with the “hook” behind Maus, Spiegelman portrays the various people involved in the story as different animals. The Jews are mice, the Germans are cats, the Americans are dogs, and so on. Spiegelman’s artwork in Maus is simplistic, yet it is just enough to get his point across. The story began serialization in the pages of Raw in the early ’80s, and was only recently completed and collected in two graphic novels. These two books are excellent reading and are easily accessible, making them a good gift for someone who is not a comic book fan.
Tundra has released a variety of books recently that deserve attention in this holiday season. To start off with, there’s Skin, a comic by Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy that truly fits the name “graphic” novel. It was denied publication several times in England, until it was recently picked up by Tundra. The story deals with the life of a boy, Martin Atchinson, who was born deformed due to the after-effects of a sedative called Thalidomide. He becomes a skinhead in London during the middle ’70s, and the comic follows his brutal, sometimes darkly humorous, existence. This is a powerful, disturbing book that is definitely not for the kiddies. Along more lighthearted and traditional holiday lines is The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. The story of this hardcover volume follows the life of Kris Kringle from birth, and the artwork is fully painted by Mike Ploog. This book is more suited for a general audience and would make a great gift for just about anyone.
Tundra has also started two new ongoing series, both in full color. First off is Rick Veitch‘s The Maximortal, a continuation of his King Hell Heroica, which started with Bratpack. The comic follows the life of True-Man, the most powerful being in Veitch’s revisionist super-hero universe. In addition, Veitch has reformatted his personal dream diary as a back-up feature called “Rare Bit Fiends.” Beginning in December, Mike Allred‘s Madman Adventures is a continuation of his quirky black and white series, which promises to have the same lighthearted tone as the original. Both Madman and The Maximortal are high quality comics in full color that should appear on a regular schedule.
Last on my list is Frank Miller’s Sin City. Up until recently, Miller has been keeping a low profile in the comic book industry. He started Sin City in the pages of Dark Horse Presents with little fanfare, but the series soon caught on. Its loosely paced story and mesmerizing black and white artwork appealed to readers, and Dark Horse has decided to collect the entire story in one volume. The collection includes some new material, and is reasonably priced for the holiday season.
While only one of the books I mentioned is related to the Christmas season, they all make excellent gifts. Even if you are not in the giving spirit, at least give one of these titles a try. I’ll be back next month with an overview of Ted McKeever’s work, and profiles of Scott McCloud and Rick Veitch in the months to come.
Here’s a quick recap and some tips on where you can find these books:
Cerebus – Regular issues can be found in comic stores, and all the reprint volumes should be available as you read this. If you feel like ordering directly from Dave Sim, you can use the following address. Check out an issue of Cerebus for prices and information for phone orders. Aardvark-Vanaheim Inc., Box 1674, Station C, Kitchener, Ontario N2G 4R2, Canada.
Bone – There should be seven issues available as you read this. They are $2.95 each, and can be ordered by writing to: Bone, c/o Cartoon Books,
P.O. Box 212, Worthington, OH 43085.
Maus – If you can’t find copies of this book, you’re probably looking too hard. Both volumes should be available in either hard or softcover at any popular bookstore or comic store.
Skin, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, Madman, and The Maximortal – These books from Tundra should be available at your local comic store. Some of Tundra’s items have been the victims of spotty distribution, so you might have better luck ordering directly from them at Tundra Publications, Ltd.,
320 Riverside Dr., Northampton, Mass, 01060. Ask for their free catalog.
Sin City – Began in the Dark Horse Presents Fifth Anniversary Special, and continued in regular issues of DHP. The special might be a little hard to find, but it contains new work from Paul Chadwick, Matt Wagner, and Simon Bisley. The regular issues of DHP have gone up in price, so it is probably more affordable to buy the collected edition. Dark Horse does not handle mail orders, but you should have no trouble finding a copy of Sin City at comic stores.